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Made in Herts – how manufacturing has shaped the world around us

17 Apr 23

Hertfordshire’s world-class engineering and manufacturing companies specialise in aerospace, space and satellite engineering, communication technologies, electronics, defence and security-related equipment and logistics.

Together they have shaped the world around us, designing and developing the things people and places need and inspiring tomorrow’s innovation from robotics and AI to sustainability and beyond. Whether it’s the cars we drive or the use of virtual reality in the classroom, its impact is far reaching and profound. 

Stevenage is the leading location for the UK upstream space industry and home to the 2018 ExoMars Rover and the 2017 Solar Orbiter Satellite research and development programmes. In August 2021, the then British Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, officially opened Airbus' new £35 million UK space and defence headquarters on Gunnels Wood Road, Stevenage.

The state of the art, environmentally friendly HQ, Orbit House, is home to 500 space engineers and experts and underlines Airbus’ confidence to continue to invest in the UK, with Stevenage at the heart of space manufacturing.  Airbus is now the UK’s largest space company with turnover in excess of £1 billion and makes up over 70 per cent of this country’s space industry, providing a vital national industrial capability and driving a diverse space supply chain that spans the UK.

Stevenage is also home to the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) which works collaboratively with industry, academia and government to engineer solutions for societal challenges, share knowledge and helps empower and influence the future of engineering.

The advanced engineering sector also includes top global companies such as world-leader in missiles systems MBDA, which is situated just across the road from Airbus, Johnson Matthey in Royston, and security-screening experts Smiths Detection in Hemel Hempstead, as well as a multitude of niche engineering companies involved in everything from components to consumables.

In July 2022, Johnson Matthey (JM), a sustainable technologies leader, announced that it will be building an £80m hydrogen gigafactory to scale up the manufacture of hydrogen fuel cell components. This aligns with JM’s refreshed strategy to be the “market leader in performance components for fuel cells and electrolysers”, targeting more than £200 million sales in hydrogen technologies by end of 2024/25.

In 2022, the engineering and manufacturing industry employed around 48,500 people in Hertfordshire, and there are nearly 2,500 firms in the sector. Since 2010, the number of businesses has risen by 3.8% per year. In terms of geographical representation, North Hertfordshire and Stevenage stand out as having the strongest manufacturing sector, due to high employment in sub-sectors related to machinery, industrial equipment, materials and weapons/ ammunition.

Drilling down a little further, there are other notable sub-sectors which include:

  • Pharmaceutical products/services and speciality chemicals manufacturing in the A1 (M) corridor, East and North Hertfordshire and Hertsmere.
  • Medical technology companies concentrated in Hemel and Hertsmere in the South and West of the county
  • Printing and related services in districts in close proximity to London.
  • Food and drink industry manufacturing in districts just outside of the M25. Towns with the highest concentrations of employment in particular manufacturing sub-sectors relative to the national average are: Royston, Waltham Cross, Tring, Hitchin, Letchworth Garden City, Hoddesdon and Stevenage.

This sector is firmly rooted in Hertfordshire with key legacy linkages in Hatfield to De Havilland which led the development from biplanes to jet airliners, including one of the most advanced commercial aircraft, the DH106 Comet, the first trans-atlantic airliner. Under its new name British Aerospace, Hatfield continued to lead on commercial aircraft production before the site was eventually sold in 1993 for commercial development as a business park.

The 800-acre site is now one of the largest business parks in Europe and home to such household brand names as Affinity Water, Ocado, Arla Foods, Royal Mail Parcel Force and pharma giant Eisai. The De Havilland name lives on at the University of Hertfordshire where the School of Physics, Engineering and Computer Science is renowned for its internationally recognised research into the astrophysics of galaxies and black holes, quantum computing and climate change, as well as bio-detection and protection.

Standing on the shoulders of giants, this pioneering spirit now supports a vibrant ecosystem of leading science, technology, engineering and manufacturing companies. Perhaps the most tangible recent example of its practical application is the opening of Stevenage Innovation and Technology Centre (SITEC) at North Herts College’s Stevenage campus. Here the next generation can pursue careers in Science, Engineering, Digital, and Sustainable Technologies subjects by accessing start-of the-art training, software and VR to make tomorrow’s world a reality.

For more information on careers in this exciting sector, visit the Engineering and Manufacturing Sector pages on Hertfordshire Opportunities Portal (www.hopinto.co.uk).

Paul Witcombe, Life Sciences and Advanced Manufacturing Lead, Hertfordshire LEP

The impact of Hertfordshire's world-class engineering and manufacturing companies is far-reaching. They shape the world around us, designing and developing the things people and places need and inspiring tomorrow’s innovation, from robotics and AI, to sustainability and beyond.
Paul Witcombe Paul WitcombeLife Sciences and Advanced Manufacturing Lead, Hertfordshire LEP
The impact of Hertfordshire's world-class engineering and manufacturing companies is far-reaching. They shape the world around us, designing and developing the things people and places need and inspiring tomorrow’s innovation, from robotics and AI, to sustainability and beyond.
Paul Witcombe Paul WitcombeLife Sciences and Advanced Manufacturing Lead, Hertfordshire LEP